In South Africa, COVID-19 cases have fallen by 40% in a week, after the nation was the first to be hit hard by the Omicron variant. But cases are rising fast in neighboring countries, including Zambia, where only about 6% of people are fully vaccinated.
Israel has opened clinical trials looking into the safety and efficacy of a fourth shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Israeli heart surgeon Jacob Lavee was the first to receive the jab on Monday.
Dr. Jacob Lavee: “Well, I’m excited to be the first person, apparently, in the world who got the fourth booster of the COVID vaccine. To paraphrase an old saying, it’s a small jab in the shoulder, probably a giant step for mankind.”
Australia reported nearly 12,000 coronavirus cases on Monday — by far its highest daily toll of the pandemic. Officials also reported Australia’s first death from the Omicron variant.
Here in the United States, the average number of daily coronavirus infections is poised to surpass last winter’s record high, with nearly a quarter-million new cases being reported each day. At the White House, President Biden met virtually with some of the nation’s governors Monday, warning the Omicron surge threatens to bring shortages of hospital beds and ventilators. Biden defended his administration’s moves to supply U.S. households with coronavirus test kits but said more needed to be done.
President Joe Biden: “But it’s not enough. It’s clearly not enough. If I had — we had known, we would have gone harder, quicker, if we could have.”
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has banned long-distance travel for unaccompanied Afghan women, saying they should not be allowed on the road unless they’re escorted by a close male relative. The Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice also demanded vehicle owners refuse rides to women not wearing headscarves.
In related news, the Taliban last week dissolved Afghanistan’s election commission. The panel supervised polls during the previous U.S.- and Western-backed government. A Taliban spokesperson said, “There is no need for these commissions to exist and operate.”
Iran has entered an eighth and potentially final round of talks in Vienna aimed at restoring the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement, which former President Trump abandoned in 2018. Ahead of the talks, a spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said any new nuclear deal — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — would have to guarantee the U.S. will not withdraw again.
Saeed Khatibzadeh: “We are in Vienna to reach an agreement at the first opportunity, a good agreement that guarantees the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian people under the JCPOA, an agreement where we can be assured that the United States will not mock international rights once again.”
Iraq’s Supreme Court has ratified the results of October’s parliamentary election, which saw the party of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr win the most seats. The court rejected several appeals by Iran-backed Shiite Muslim groups that contested the poll results, clearing the path for the new parliament to soon hold its inaugural session. In 2004, al-Sadr ordered his militia, known as the Mahdi Army, to attack U.S. forces occupying Iraq. In response, then-President George W. Bush ordered the military to kill or capture al-Sadr, though the White House later canceled that order.
U.S. and Russian officials are scheduled to hold security talks on January 10 amid mounting tension over the military buildup at the Russia-Ukraine border. A Biden administration spokesperson said Russia and NATO are likely to meet January 12 and that a broader discussion including Russia, the U.S. and other European countries is also set for January 13. Russia has blamed the escalating tensions over Ukraine on Western powers.
Germany’s new coalition government has moved to legalize recreational use of marijuana. A deal among the Social Democratic Party, Free Democratic Party and Greens would see the creation of a regulated market for the adult sale and use of cannabis. The plan also calls for broader drug policy harm reduction programs, like allowing people to test illicit drugs for contaminants without facing criminal penalties. If the deal is approved, Germany will become the world’s largest market for marijuana. Among European nations, only Malta currently allows for the recreational use of marijuana.
President Biden signed a military budget bill Monday that will see the Pentagon receive nearly $778 billion during the next fiscal year. It’s a record high for a National Defense Authorization Act, surpassing the previous record set under Trump, and $24 billion more than the White House requested from Congress.
Public Citizen’s Robert Weissman blasted the bill as a “reckless misuse of resources,” adding, “Why is there more money for the military-industrial complex—providing no additional protection for our national security and arguably diminishing it—at the same time the U.S. is refusing to spend the $25 billion needed to make enough additional vaccines to vaccinate the world?”
In California, the Los Angeles Police Department has released surveillance and bodycam footage of the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta last Thursday. The teenage girl was killed after an LAPD bullet bounced off the floor and into the dressing room where Orellana-Peralta was trying on dresses with her mother.
The footage shows about a dozen police officers entering the clothing store after receiving reports that a man was assaulting customers. Almost immediately after encountering the suspect in an aisle, one of the officers fired three rounds from an assault rifle, fatally injuring 24-year-old Daniel Elena Lopez, who was armed only with a bicycle lock. The officer didn’t make any commands, and Elena Lopez didn’t appear to pose a threat to the officer. Valentina Orellana-Peralta’s death has been ruled a homicide due to a gunshot wound to her chest. The LAPD officer who killed her hasn’t been identified and was placed on paid leave.
Valentina died in her mother’s arms. Both had come to the U.S. from Chile about six months ago to be with Valentina’s older sister in Los Angeles. The girl’s aunt told the L.A. Times, “Valentina was a shy girl in Chile, but everything was turning out well for her in the U.S. … My sister does not understand how this tragedy could have happened just when they had managed to reunite the family.”